Menzel, Florian Dr.
Group leader Science is an adventure ;-)
|since 2011||Group Leader at the Institute of Zoology, University of Mainz|
|2009-2011||Research and teaching at the community Ecology group, Institute of Ecology and Evolution, University of Bern|
|2006-2009||PhD thesis: "Mechanisms and adaptive significance of interspecific assocations between tropical ant species"; field work in Sabah and Sarawak/Malaysian Borneo|
|2005||Diploma thesis: "Crematogaster-Camponotus Associations in a Tropical Rainforest: Mechanisms and Specificity of Interspecific Recognition"; field work in Sabah/Malaysian Borneo|
|2000-2005||studies in Biology at the University of Würzburg (Germany), including two semesters at Duke University (Durham, NC, USA) and research semester at Gruffith University (Brisbane, Australia)|
The research of my group is centred around interactions between ant species, the chemical signals involved, and their effect on community structure and ecosystem functioning. Our taxonomic focus is on tropical and temperate ant communities, and interactions of ants with other ants, spiders and aphids. Beside Central Europe, we conduct research in the tropical rainforests of Malaysia (Sabah/Borneo), French Guiana, and Australia.
1) Which mechanisms structure ecological communities and enable species coexistence?
A core question of community ecology concerns the mechanisms of species coexistence and the maintainance of local biodiversity. Especially in ants, competitive exclusion through aggression plays a major role in shaping ant communities. Co-occurring ant species can partition their niches to reduce interspecific competition. Especially behaviourally subordinate species have to adapt their realised niche in order to avoid competitive exclusion by dominants. However, there is increasing evidence that intraspecific variation between individuals (or colonies) is equally important for species coexistence. 'Inter-individual niche partitioning' may explain the coexistence of species whose average niches are seemingly similar, but whose individual niches may differ widely. In the last years, researchers have increasingly realised that, beyond specific species assemblages, the variation of morphological and other functional traits within and between species can explain species coexistence and ecosystem functioning. Thus, the distribution of traits among species greatly influences species coexistence and ecosystem functioning.
In this context, we investigate niche partitioning between and within ant species in temperate and tropical forests, with a focus on behavioural, dietary and temporal activity traits. Furthermore, we investigate relations between morphological and ecological traits. Finally, we examine how the distribution of functional traits influences the stability of ecosystems. Here, we use a concept for the quantification of functional redundancy which we recently developed.
2) How do chemical signals mediate interspecific interactions and influence community structure?
Species coexistence, and thus, community composition, is ultimately driven by interactions between species. Especially among ants, such behavioural interactions occur frequently and are usually aggressive. However, interactions are also possible without direct physical contact – if an animal responds to cues left by another one. For example, prey species respond to chemical cues unintentionally left by predators, and avoid sites of higher predation risk (antipredator behaviour). The response to predator cues even influences the composition of natural communities.
We recently showed that species do not only respond to cues of predators. Ants show strong responses to chemical footprints or cuticular hydrocarbons of co-occurring ant species, which represent potential competitors. Several subordinate species avoid cues of dominant species, probably to reduce costs of aggressive encounters. Other species, in contrast, ignore heterospecific cues, or even approach them. To better understand how cue use varies within and across species, we investigate how responses to chemical footprints depend on an ant’s personality traits (such as exploration tendency or aggressiveness), and whether it is shaped by previous experience. Responses to chemical cues may affect the spatial distribution of ant colonies. For example, founding queens might choose their intended nest site based on cues in the surrounding. In the future, we plan to investigate causes and consequences of cue use using both experimental and modelling approaches. Understanding these mechanisms will represent an important bridge between individual behaviour and spatial community structure, thereby linking chemical ecology and community ecology.
3) Which ecological and evolutionary factors shape chemical signals?
The most important chemical communication signal in ants and other social insects is the cuticular hydrocarbon (CHC) profile. Covering the cuticle of virtually every insect, cuticular hydrocarbons make its body waterproof, but at the same time serve as intra- and interspecific communication cue, e.g. to discriminate nestmates from non-nestmates. Cuticular hydrocarbon profiles are largely genetically determined, but often vary within a species over an animal’s lifetime. This is caused by environmental influences such as an insect's food, but also by its acclimation to current climatic conditions. In my research, I investigate the factors that induce short-term changes in CHC profiles, but also which selection pressures affect the evolution of CHC profiles. At the moment, we study how CHC profiles are affected by climatic conditions, and how these changes affect individual survival and nestmate recognition. Variation in the ability to acclimate also seems to vary between species. It seems plausible that CHC plasticity may determine the climatic tolerance and the geographic range of a species, and its response to a changing climate.
When we compare CHC profiles across species, we notice a striking chemical diversity even among closely related species. This raises the question how this complex trait evolves, and which constraints act upon CHC diversification. Currently, we investigate the evolution of CHC profiles on a global scale, including ant species from various biogeographic regions in a phylogenetic framework. We examine how CHC profiles are shaped by phylogenetic and physiological constraints, but also by selection pressures imposed by the climate or by interactions with other species. Using transcriptomic data on gene expression and selection, we plan to identify the genetic mechanisms that underlie the rapid diversification of CHC profiles in mutualistically associated ants of tropical South America.
Potential topics for research practicals, bachelor, diploma, master or Staatsexamen theses include:
• factors influencing cuticular hydrocarbon profiles and nestmate recognition
• role of chemical cues in inter- and intraspecific interactions
• behavioural interactions between ant species or between ants and spiders
• consequences of cestode infection on chemical cues in ant colonies
• niche differentiation between ant species and the consequences for the functional redundancy in ant communities
• the relation between morphological traits and their ecological niche
• field work
• behavioural experiments in the lab
• chemical analyses (GC-MS)
• statistical analysis of ant communities
• morphological measurements
Please feel free to contact me for further information.
Ellwood MDFE, Blüthgen N, Fayle TM, Foster WA and Menzel F. Competition can lead to unexpected patterns in tropical ant communities. Acta Oecologica, in press.
Leonhardt SD*, Menzel F*, Nehring V*, Schmitt T (in press): Ecology and evolution of communication in social insects. Cell (*all three authors contributed equally)
Houadria M, Blüthgen N, Salas-Lopez A, Schmitt MI, Arndt J, Schneider E, Orivel J, Menzel F (2016): The relation between circadian asynchrony, functional redundancy and trophic performance in tropical ant communities. Ecology 97: 225-235
Bucher R, Menzel F, Entling MH. (2015) Risk of spider predation alters food web structure and reduces local herbivory in the field. Oecologia. 178:571-577
Houadria M, Salas-Lopez A, Orivel J, Blüthgen N, Menzel F (2015): Dietary and temporal niche differentiation in species-rich assemblages - can they explain local tropical ant coexistence? Biotropica 47: 208-217
Bucher R, Binz H, Menzel F & Entling MH (2014): Spider cues stimulate feeding, weight gain and survival of crickets. Ecological Entomology 39:667-673
Binz H, Foitzik S, Staab F, Menzel F (2014): The chemistry of competition: Exploitation of heterospecific cues depends on the dominance rank in the community. Animal Behaviour 94: 45-53
Menzel F, Kriesell H, Witte V (2014): Parabiotic ants: the costs and benefits of symbiosis. Ecological Entomology DOI: 10.1111/een.12116
Bucher R, Binz H, Menzel F & Entling MH (2014): Effects of spider chemotactile cues on arthropod behavior. Journal of Insect Behaviour DOI 10.1007/s10905-014-9449-1
Menzel F, Orivel J, Kaltenpoth M, Schmitt T (2014): What makes you a potential partner? Insights from convergently evolved ant-ant symbioses. Chemoecology DOI 10.1007/s00049-014-0149-2
Pamminger T, Foitzik S, Kaufmann KC, Schützler N, Menzel F (2014): Worker personality and its association with spatially structured division of labor. PLoS One 9: e79616
Binz H, Bucher R, Entling MH & Menzel F (2014): Knowing the risk: Crickets distinguish between spider predators of different size and commonness. Ethology 120: 99-110
Menzel F, Blüthgen N, Tolasch T, Conrad J, Beifuß U, Beuerle T, Schmitt T (2013): Crematoenones – a novel substance class exhibited by ants functions as appeasement signal. Frontiers in Zoology 10:32
Menzel F, Staab M, Chung AYC, Gebauer G, Blüthgen N (2012): Trophic ecology of parabiotic ants: Do the partners have similar food niches? Austral Ecology 37: 537-546
Menzel F, Schmitt T (2011): Tolerance requires the right smell: first evidence for interspecific selection on chemical recognition cues. Evolution 66-3: 896-904
Lang C, Menzel F (2011): Lasius niger ants discriminate aphids based on their cuticular hydrocarbons. Animal Behaviour 82: 1245-1254
Menzel F, Woywod M, Blüthgen N, Schmitt T (2010): Behavioural and chemical mechanisms behind a Mediterranean ant-ant association. Ecological Entomology 35: 711-720
Menzel F, Pokorny T, Blüthgen N, Schmitt T (2010): Trail-sharing among tropical ants: interspecific use of trail pheromones? Ecological Entomology 35: 495-503
Menzel F, Blüthgen N (2010): Parabiotic associations between tropical ants: equal partnership or parasitic exploitation? Journal of Animal Ecology 79: 71-81
Menzel F, Schmitt T, Blüthgen N (2009): Intraspecific nestmate recognition in two parabiotic ant species: acquired recognition cues and low inter-colony discrimination. Insectes Sociaux 56: 251-260
Menzel F, Blüthgen N, Schmitt T (2008): Tropical parabiotic ants: Highly unusual cuticular substances and low interspecific discrimination. Frontiers in Zoology 5: 16
Menzel F, Linsenmair KE, Blüthgen N (2008): Selective interspecific tolerance in tropical Crematogaster-Camponotus associations. Animal Behaviour 75: 837-846
Blüthgen N, Fründ J, Vázquez DP, Menzel F (2008): What do interaction network metrics tell us about specialization and biological traits? Ecology 89: 3387-3399
Blüthgen N, Menzel F, Hovestadt T, Fiala B, Blüthgen N (2007): Specialization, constraints, and conflicting interests in mutualistic networks. Current Biology 17: 341-346
Zhou P, Menzel F, Shaw J (2007): Systematics and population genetics of Sphagnum macrophyllum and S. cribrosum (Sphagnaceae). Systematic Botany 32: 493-503
Blüthgen N, Menzel F, Blüthgen N (2006): Measuring specialization in species interaction networks. BMC Ecology 6: 9
Beaulieu F, Walter DE, Proctor HC, Kitching RL & Menzel F (2006): Mesostigmatid mites (Acari: Mesostigmata) on rainforest tree trunks: arboreal specialists, but substrate generalists? Experimental and Applied Acarology 39: 25-40
Menzel F, Kitching RL, Boulter SL (2004): Host specificity or habitat structure? – The epicortical beetle assemblages in an Australian subtropical rainforest. European Journal of Entomology 101: 251-259
Menzel F (1999): Anatomie der Farnpflanzen: Artbestimmung und Evolution. Jahreshefte der Gesellschaft für Naturkunde Württemberg 155: 107-133
Menzel F (1999): Leitbündelevolution bei Farnen. junge wissenschaft 56: 34-39